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Matching Saw Pitch to Your Work

Saw til and hand saws

This saw til was one of the projects in The Hand Tool School

I often admit to having a saw problem. In reality I am not as bad as some others I know. Matt Cianci of The Saw Blog (Matt I know you’re reading) should be the poster child for the saw addiction.

However I do have quite a few saws with not that much difference between them. For instance I have 3 rip hands saws 26″ and longer. They are filed at 5.5, 6, and 8 ppi. (and a 10 ppi rip, panel saw) In the crosscut realm, I have 8, 10, and 12 ppi hand saws (the 12ppi is actually a panel saw). There is not much difference between those and some would wonder why I have such similar saw tooth geometry.

I feel like I could use a few more and here is a good example why. Yesterday I was rough cutting some 8/4 Mahogany. As usual I cross cut the board to approximate length first so I had less to rip (cause ripping is work). I used my coarsest pitch crosscut, 8 ppi, to saw the 6 inch wide board then switched to my 5.5 ppi rip saw to rip the remaining 10 inch board down to a thinner width.

Hand Tool School Saw BenchAs is typical in my shop, I was filming a project so the camera was running. I remember thinking at the time that the crosscutting was more tiring than the rip. Later when downloading the video I saw that I had ripped the 10″ board in almost half the time that it took to crosscut 6″. Ignoring the fact that crosscutting and ripping are different cutting actions and are like apples and oranges it is still interesting that I ripped a section 4″ longer in half the time of the crosscut.

The magic my friends, is all in the pitch of the saws. Mostly I work with 4/4 lumber when building furniture, so my saw nest is tailored to that thickness. Occasionally 8/4 and 12/4 sneaks in for legs and such and this is why I should have more saws in my nest. (like I need an excuse to get more saws). The age old rule of thumb is to have 6-7 teeth in the cut at any time. Assuming I am sawing completely vertical (which I rarely if ever do), my 6 ppi rip saw is on the lower end of the sweet spot for ripping a 4/4 board so I should cut quickly and efficiently. My 8 ppi crosscut will work nicely and efficiently for a rough crosscut in 4/4 as well. However, once I step up to 8/4 material, that 8 ppi saw really slows down with so many teeth and small gullets filling up with sawdust very quickly. My 5.5 ppi rip saw is on the high end but still within that rule of thumb to allow for more efficient sawing. Hence the faster ripping result.

So the moral of the story is, we all need more saws. As furniture makers, we will encounter a wide variety of thicknesses and in order to do our best work, the pitch of the saw should vary with the thickness. I think many woodworkers will get a crosscut and a rip saw and call it quits. Then the moment they try to saw a board that stresses the 6-7 tooth rule, they give up because sawing is suddenly “too slow”. The truth is when you have the right saw for the wood, sawing is really fast and efficient…and good exercise.

So go forth my friends and buy more saws! Tell me about your saw nest. Where does it excel and how can you augment it?

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